Categories
Media

It’s 2020! What have I been reading? What have I been watching? What have I been listening to? What have I been

Ohhhhkay. I fully recognize that I have neglected writing much of substance (not counting the last bunch of reviews that I shared for The Slow Reader) in a little while. Sure, I could blame the busy holiday season (and I do); but that’s the easy way. The truth of the matter is that aside from various medical complications, I have actually been consuming a lot of media rather than creating new media (again, aside from my podcast).

Simply put, I hadn’t really felt the writing bug exactly. But lately I’ve been consuming a lot of creative-inspiring media that are giving me that nudge in the “write” direction again, so I thought I might pump out a mass post that covers some of the stuff I’ve watched or listened to or read or what-have-you in the last little while. This is not in any particular order, but I will try to indicate the media type next to each text block. Oh and that’s another thing – I’m limiting myself to a paragraph per topic; otherwise I will just keep going. Do you see what I’ve done so far without even providing a review of anything?

As always with my reviews, expect there to be some kind of spoilers involved. I’ll do my best to keep major surprises hidden, but sometimes I need to be specific.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (Movie)

Amazingly, Vanessa won tickets to a private screening on opening day to see the final entry in the Skywalker saga. By far, this is the earliest I’d ever seen a Star Wars movie; I usually wait until a few weeks and resort to dodging spoilers left and right while I let the crowds die down. In short, I enjoyed the movie. I have still only seen it once, and while I had several issues with the film, I thought it did a good job. The downside: it felt like a direct sequel to The Force Awakens, and tried very hard to play down the events of The Last Jedi. The brightside: it was a visually fantastic film. I had other points about this to make (good and bad), but I’ve run out of room. If you were on the fence and waiting on my opinion (shocker), go see this film.

The Mandalorian (TV Show)

I think most people have already watched all of The Mandalorian, but so far we have only watched the first two episodes. The main reason for us was because I was selfishly holding out for a new 4KTV, not wanting to watch a cool new Star Wars series on a 32″ 720p TV. We got our new TV, and I subsequently subscribed to Disney Plus. I really like this show – it’s the right mix of Sci-Fi and Western, and is the visualization of what a good Star Wars novel can do. It’s definitely raising some interesting questions about the Star Wars universe (such as why are Jawas on a planet other than Tatooine?), and it looks fantastic.

Star Trek Picard (TV Show)

I’m going to have to do a deeper dive on this at a later time, but for right now let’s just say that it does a lot of things right. One episode in (well…at the time of writing this), I’m really glad that it’s not just a glorified reunion show. It could very easily rely on nostalgia – and to some extent, it does – but it’s giving us a new story. It definitely feels like it’s relevant to today’s world too. I’ve heard rumblings of some people who don’t like it, because of some action sequences, or say that it’s not Star Trek. Well too bad. This is Star Trek in 2020. I find that what Star Trek is changes with the times. We wouldn’t have gotten this in the 90’s because that’s not what TV was in the 90’s.

The Big Bang Theory (Seasons 1-3) (TV Show)

I’m still not through season 3 yet, but after spending years avoiding the show I decided to finally watch it. The first season and first half of season 2 were pretty bad – the only good parts were the clever comedy that wasn’t at all related to nerd culture. In fact that’s the part I liked the least – all of the “nerd culture” jokes. I’ll have to research this a bit, but it seems that the series had a bit of a turning point in season 2 and the characters had some subtle changes introduced. They started to grow a little beyond their “haha laugh at us beecause we’re nerds” stereotype. I’ve seen some later-season episodes and think they’re much better than this early stuff, and I can at least see some of those seeds planted in late season 2 / early season 3. Ultimately I find it interesting to see how slowly they do character development in a half-hour sitcom.

The Informal Biography of Scrooge McDuck (Book)

I picked up this weird little zine (published I believe in 1974) from my Uncle’s book collection after he passed away in 2017. It just seemed like a quirky little thing that would be fun to read. So far, it’s either ironically hilarious or incredibly dry – never both. I’ll probably be reviewing it for The Slow Reader this year.

Writing Excuses (Podcast)

This is the podcast that has had me mainly growing my itch to write more. This season, the Writing Excuses crew are answering listener questions and one of them was an episode about self publishing. This is the episode in particular that made me want to get some writing done. I still don’t think I’m cut out to write fiction anymore, but writing in general is something I like to do quite a bit. I think I dropped the ball in 2019 so I’m going to pick it back up in 2020.

Descript (Software)

Descript is a recording software program that I started using late last year. The long and short of it is that the program automatically transcribes the audio that you either record or import. It starts you off with I think 3 hours free transcription services, after which you need to pay a nominal fee every year (I couldn’t tell you what that fee is right now without looking it up). But it’s not just about transcribing – it also lets you edit your audio by highlighting and deleting text! This part of it is specifically really amazing and saves a lot of time in the editing process. I really like it so far and am strongly considering paying for the product. They released a video to announce their project and it gives you a good idea of how it works.

Well, that’s all that I wanted to write about this time around. I’m not sure what’s up next; I’m trying not to force my writing, which means that I’m putting off writing my review of Master and Apprentice. I’m not feeling it right now, so I think I’d come out of the process with an inferior product. I’m also trying a new set up for my writing process, so that may lead to some different things too.

Categories
TV

Star Trek Discovery Opening Titles

I think this is probably the best opening sequence of any Star Trek show.  It would be cool if they made versions for all of the other shows that look like this.  My current desktop wallpaper is a screenshot of the Discovery from this sequence.  It looks really great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eipvltuV6iQ

Categories
TV

Review: Deep Space Nine “For the Uniform” (S5E13)

Spoiler alert!  This episode may be 20 years old, but some people are still discovering it for the first time.  Be warned – I’m not holding back any information in this review.

I recently re-watched “For the Uniform”, the 13th episode of Deep Space Nine’s fifth season.   I remember really liking this episode when I first watched it, but how does it hold up 20 years later?

5.5/10

The Good: Action-packed episode with well-executed teamwork

The Bad: The tense moments on the bridge are undermined by the lighthearted ending

The Plot

Sisko is hot on the trails of former security chief Michael Eddington, who betrayed him a couple of seasons ago and joined the Maquis (a freedom fighting group that fights both Cardassians and the Federation).  He finds out that Eddington is using bio-weapons to displace Cardassians from former human settlements, and decides to defy orders to finally bring him in.

Episode Background

As mentioned in the plot summary, Eddington was brought onto the show in the third season, installed by Starfleet pretty much because they no longer trusted Odo, a Changeling, to be in charge of station security.  Eventually Eddington betrayed the crew of DS9 and defected to the Maquis; ostensibly he was working for them the entire time, but I don’t think it was ever made clear where his loyalties were from the beginning.

After his defection, this is (I’m almost certain) his first appearance on the show.  Sisko is portrayed in this episode as being slightly obsessed with finding Eddington, and compared to Inspector Javert in Les Miserables (by Eddington himself, who sees himself as Valjean).

What else happens?

In order to catch Eddington, Sisko elects to use a similar tactic to Eddington: he poisons the atmosphere of a planet in order to lure Eddington out into the open.  He positions this as a direct response to Eddington’s attack on a Cardassian world, which was poisoned earlier in the episode.  I should note that the poison in both cases was only harmful to the opposite species, so at the end of the episode Cardassian and Human settlers just swap planets in quasi-O’Henry moment.

To spell it out, everyone is shocked when Eddington uses some sort of bio-weapon to make a planet uninhabitable for at least 50 years for Cardassians.  Everyone is really shocked about the development, and luckily none of those innocent people are killed during the evacuation.  Time passes and the crew is stumped on how to catch him.

So Sisko decides to load up some torpedoes and do the same thing to a Maquis planet.  Everyone is assuming he’s bluffing, and do a collective double-take when he actually gives the order to fire.  They do it, and the Maquis planet is made uninhabitable to humans for 50 years.

Eddington turns himself and his bio-weapons in when he’s convinced Sisko is going to continue to poison Maquis planets.  The settlers on each world swap places, and everyone is happy.

Character Implications

At the end of the episode, seemingly the characters are acting like it’s just any other day.  Sisko is perfectly fine being the “villain” of the story, and brushes off committing crazy acts of war against an entire planet by saying he “forgot” to clear it with Starfleet.

But knowing what he does in an upcoming episode (“In the Pale Moonlight”), it’s actually really cool to see the seeds of his actions start here.  This is a great character beat to show that Sisko is not Picard, and he’s not Kirk.  He’s willing to take some big gambles to get the job done.

But also brushed over are the crew’s reaction to his order.  I have two reactions to this series of events: 1) I’m surprised that no one did anything other than stare blankly at Sisko.  If this was TNG, Worf would be relieving the Captain of his duties.  2) On the other hand, the crew knows this is an important mission and are willing to trust the captain’s judgment.  This goes a long way to establishing what kind of trust Sisko engenders in his crew, even if some of his orders are questionable.

Does the episode hold up?

Yes, but…

Yes, it holds up because the action is great and well-paced.  But…there are some holes.  We haven’t really been given the chance to see how obsessed Sisko is at finding Eddington.  They throw in a line about him being on a planet for 8 months looking for him but that’s about it?  I don’t remember any previous mentions of Eddington since the defection.

Yes, it holds up because the idea of the crew working together to make the Defiant simply run was really cool.  It gave you some insight into how a starship actually operates when you push a button to make it go, and how reliant they are on the technology – but at the same time, how resilient they can be.  But…I really hated that holo-communication thing.  Neat idea in concept, but I thought they were better off with audio-communication.

I also really didn’t like how it was neatly wrapped up at the end of the episode.  I’m using this term a lot, but the poisoning of atmospheres was trivialized by simply having the colonists swap planets.  It really undermined the shocked looks on the faces of the crew when Sisko said to “Fire, damn you!”

I mean, if the end result was that the colonists were going to be fine, just another planet over, why was there any hesitation in carrying out the order?  Dax and Sisko were joking about it at the end of the episode.  The music cue at the end was bright and uplifting – the writers wanted you to feel good about the victory.  I certainly didn’t think it was a moral victory, and am disappointed there was no follow-through from anyone.

Overall Rating

I give this episode a 5.5/10.  It definitely has highlights, but the negative points I mentioned kept bringing it down a few notches.

Categories
writing

Let’s Talk About Ads

Let’s talk about ads! Not the science behind marketing, blah blah blah. Smarter people than me can take care of that conversation. Instead, I want to talk about ads in general, and things that are ad-supported.

The topic that brought this to mind was a recent post on /r/podcasts about sponsors.  It was what you’d call on Reddit, a “shitpost” – a low-effort post with nothing to say.  From that spawned an actual discussion at least, with opinions being split between supporting ads and being vehemently against them.  Personally, I’m okay with them, and here’s why.

Full disclosure – I work in an industry that relies on advertising to generate revenue (radio).  I am slightly biased, but not for the reason of perpetuating a source of revenue / income.

I am a podcast creator  myself; I don’t use ads in my show, but rather rely on a Patreon campaign.  However, I understand the need for ads to offset production costs.  I have made a conscious choice to not skip ads for a product I am downloading for free.  I do not make the financial decision to donate, so I don’t want to cheat the creators out of ads that they feel are necessary to support their craft.

I understand that listening to ads on a podcast is not an act in itself that will bring them money.  This is more of a moral decision on my part.  But in a similar vein, I also decided to disable adblockers in my browser so that websites I frequent benefit from my ad views.  I understand that there’s whitelisting things you can do, so that terrible ad-based sites suffer, but I would rather just not go to those offending websites.

We live in a strange time, I think.  Younger generations feel entitled to block out all advertising to get what they want.  Some would gladly pay for subscriptions in exchange for an ad-free experience, but I think that might get close to the erosion of net neutrality.  This is also probably a ‘slippery slope’ argument in the making, so I’m going to stop there.

I think that my final opinion on the matter is that I’m perfectly fine with ads, if they are supporting a medium that I’m not paying for.  Radio, podcasts, and web sites – those are great examples.  All of those have options for ad-free experiences as well in most cases.

For radio, there is Satellite Radio available (for which I have a subscription – I enjoy both Satellite AND terrestrial radio); for podcasts, there are a host of options; for websites, ad-free versions have been around for years.  Apps have paid versions as well as ad-supported free versions.

Where it gets less tolerable are services such as Television, where I pay a subscription service and still get ads.  However it is still tolerable, because I realize that the ads are supporting the channels, so it’s really the cable service that I’m paying through the nose for.  TV is complicated, guys.

What are your thoughts?

Categories
TV

Next Generation Memories

I mentioned in a previous post the Mission Log Podcast; currently they’re covering THE NEXT GENERATION (and in a recent episode, indicated they should be getting to the movies in about a year).  It got me thinking about the episodes I remember most fondly compared to the episodes that I appreciate today.

I don’t clearly remember too many episodes from the first three seasons of TNG; in fact I’m pretty sure I never watched season 1’s first run on a regular basis – though I think I can remember an episode where Klingons escaped from the brig by taking their uniform apart.  Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what happened in that episode.  Season 2 is a bit spotty for me as well, but I remember some bits like Elementary, Dear Data and The Big Goodbye (and my memory fails me even now – I just remembered that’s a season 1 episode!).

Season 3 is a little clearer – I still don’t remember all of it (and that’s not surprising – it aired in the 1989-1990 season, so I would have been only 5 and 6 years old), but one of the standouts was Yesterday’s Enterprise, and of course The Best of Both Worlds.  Looking back at the episode list, some of them seem familiar in premise only.  I remember watching Geordi and a Romulan find their way off a stormy planet (The Enemy); Data builds a daughter (The Offspring); and the Ferengi kidnapping Riker and the Troi’s (Melange A Trois).  But watching season 3 in order revealed a lot of things I don’t remember seeing before.

I don’t think I have clear memories of TNG until Season 5 (Darmok being a favourite), but going back to my original point: the episodes I remember really liking were gimmicky shows.  Geordi and Ro are thought dead, but really they’re “phased”; Scotty comes back and drinks something green!  Worf fights a bunch of Datas in the Holodeck as a cowboy.  The crew of the Enterprise travel back in time to the early 20th century.  Data dreams of Troi as a cake.  Q takes Picard back to his academy days.  Stuff like that.

But it strikes me that I’ve learned to appreciate episodes like Family or The Inner Light more than I would have growing up.  I think these concepts would have gone straight over my head when I was younger, because I was more interested in the action-y bits.  But through my teenage to adult years, I became more interested in story and writing, which is why I got into DEEP SPACE NINE so heavily and it’s still my favourite series.  So I now appreciate those deeper TNG episodes.

But while some people contest that the gimmick shows don’t really hold up (and they don’t, as good stories or Star Trek), I still really like them.  I’m able to look past their flaws and still get a kick out of Geordi sending a Romulan through the window, even while asking “well why don’t their feet fall through the floor?”.

Categories
TV

Arrested Development Season 5?

I just read on Thursday that the full cast of Arrested Development has signed on for Season 5, an article that opened with:

““Arrested Development” fans, prepare yourselves: Season 5 is all but inevitable.”

OK, but do we really need another season?  It sounds like the producers are working hard to create a season that is a little more “organic” than the last season in 2013…the gist I get out of it is that it will likely end up being closer to the first three seasons in terms of scope, rather than the slightly disjointed season 4.

I liked season 4, but I understand why some people didn’t.  It had a very similar style to the original show, but deviated in that it was presented out of order with a lot of information purposefully withheld until the later episodes.  If you were expecting something identical to seasons 1-3, you’d be disappointed.

Frankly I thought it was smart to try something different.  I heard that there was an edit in the works that presented the series in chronological order, but based on the way it was filmed/edited originally, I’m not sure that’s even possible.  I think it might have been boring if it had used the same formula as the previous seasons.  In fact, I would have been happy if they ended it with season 3.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed with that ending.

I won’t be rushing to watch it but likely will if it’s a shorter season.  I think season 4 ended up being a bit on the long side.